Monday, January 17, 2011

How to Take Better Pictures: Overriding your Camera's Flash

Recently I started a series of photographic tips on how to improve your photography.  Well I’m back again with a few more tips, inspired by what I have constantly seen following Lakers and Clippers games.  Ok so you’re at the big game, and you want to take a photo of yourself and your friends with the court in the background.  I’ve seen this at the conclusion of every game, and I’ve seen it done the same every single time.  A friend points the camera at a group of friends, who pose with the court in the background.  The intention is get the friends and the court in the same shot, exposed properly, but 100% of the time, the friends are lit up by the flash, and the court is dark and orange, as seen below.  

Photo taken with flash
Look familiar?

This is the wrong way to shoot this scene, and it’s not the fault of the photographer, but rather is the fault of the camera.  Most of the time, modern digital cameras are smart enough to automatically expose for any scene, and 90% of people out there will leave their camera on “auto” mode, which is fine for most situations outdoors in bright sunlight.  The camera sees a dark scene, and will turn on its flash.  The problem is that the flash is not strong enough to reach the court anyway, and throws off the exposure.  If I had posed some people in front of the court, they'd be lit up, and the court would look like this.

This brings us to tip #4:  Know when to turn off your flash.

This situation applies to any room in which your camera thinks it needs to pop up its flash – not just a basketball arena.  A quick summary about how simple digital cameras work on “auto” mode:  If there is enough light, the camera will shoot the picture without a flash.  If there is not enough light, the camera will pop up the flash, and then take the picture with a flash.  This is where exposure (brightness or darkness) will be thrown off along with the (white balance) colors.   Here's how the scene looks without flash:

Better, right?

We’ll take a look at the issue of white balance in our next tip, but the point is:  Know when to override the camera’s auto flash and turn it off.  Take a look at the picture below, taken without flash.  Notice how the colors are more natural and true to life.  Try it out!


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